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Couple face fine for removing trees near Spokane River

The state Department of Ecology is investigating the unauthorized cutting of trees along the Spokane River in northwest Spokane below West Point Road. (Colin Mulvany)
The state Department of Ecology is investigating the unauthorized cutting of trees along the Spokane River in northwest Spokane below West Point Road. (Colin Mulvany)

A couple face thousands of dollars in state fines after clear-cutting a strip of forest that runs from their deck down a steep hill to the Spokane River upstream from the T.J. Meenach Bridge.

About two dozen trees of various sizes were cut down since last summer, including one that was felled and allowed to drop into the river. The trees, a mix of conifers and deciduous species, were left scattered on the hillside where they dropped.

The property is comprised of two adjoining parcels owned by Gerald and Carolyn Santantonio. The size of the properties is not given on the website of the Spokane County assessor.

Brook Beeler, spokeswoman for the Department of Ecology in Spokane, said the owners acknowledged the tree cutting but did not initially indicate the reason for it.

The trees were below the couple’s home in a line of sight to the water and riverbank.

Beeler said the department will first seek a restoration plan from the property owners. If they fail to comply, they could face a fine of up to $1,000 a day for a single violation of the state’s shoreline protection law.

No permit had been issued for the cutting.

“We feel like working with us is the best way (to resolve the issue),” Beeler said. “That way everybody wins.”

The Santantonios were not available for comment.

The area that was cut lies along the southeast side of the Spokane River in an area where the river goes through a pair of sweeping turns near Pettet Drive, also called Doomsday Hill on the Bloomsday route. The cleared land is not easily visible to the public.

Guy Gardner, a resident living four blocks from the river, said he discovered the logging during a recent walk along an unmarked trail that runs along that section of shoreline.

“You can’t see the damage unless you go right there,” he said.

He described the cutting as “amazingly irresponsible.”

Other properties in that section of river have maintained their tree cover.

The city’s shoreline master plan designates the area as a natural shoreline with a 200-foot protection zone. Development or disturbance is generally not allowed within that zone.

Beeler said shoreline property owners should always consult their local government planning offices before doing anything that disrupts the land.

In addition to violating the shoreline law, the owners failed to acquire a hydraulics permit from the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife. One of the trees was dropped into the river, which would have required a permit.

Mark Wachtel, habitat program manager for WDFW, said his agency would allow DOE to take care of the enforcement and remediation.

Beeler said a DOE official is going to meet with the Santantonios to interview them and work with them on devising the restoration plan.

The Santantonios’ attorney, Thomas Culbertson, said he had no knowledge of the cutting.

The Santantonios’ 1909 home is listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places. It was designed by Kirtland Cutter and Karl Malmgren for the owner of a company that made diamond drills for hard rock mining.

A news article about the house in 1926 described it as well-placed along the bluff with well-conceived grounds and plantings.

The Santantonios purchased the house in 1993 and undertook extensive restoration, according to the 1999 historic nomination report.